Born In: Belfast
Betty Williams was a peace activist whose exemplary work in strife-torn Northern Ireland was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and she became a co-recipient of the prestigious prize in 1976. She was born in the middle of the 20th century and led an ordinary life until the age of 33, working as an office assistant and raising her children in her home in Belfast. Everything changed when she witnessed three children being crushed to death as a car, in which an IRA fugitive was escaping, lost control. Realizing that next time it could be her children, she galvanized into action and gathered hundreds of women around her, collecting 6000 signatures within two days. She co-founded a movement called Women for Peace, which may not have stopped violence altogether, but definitely was seen as a solid peace initiative in the troubled Northern Ireland. Later, Williams traveled around the globe in a bid to improve lives of the children caught in war. She served as the president of World Centers of Compassion for Children International. She was also a published author who penned several books, both for children and adults.
Died At Age: 76
Spouse/Ex-: James Perkins, Ralph Williams, Ralph Williams
children: Paul Williams
Born Country: Northern Ireland
place of death: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Founder/Co-Founder: Community of Peace People
education: St Dominic's Grammar School for Girls
awards: 1976 - Nobel Prize award
Betty Williams was born on 22 May 1943 in Belfast, Northern Ireland as Elizabeth Smyth. Her father was a butcher by profession and Protestant by faith; while her Catholic mother was a homemaker. Williams was the oldest child of her parents, and she grew up with a younger sister named Maggie.
Since her childhood, Williams had the greatest regard for her father. While talking about him, Betty said in an interview, “He would say, ‘I don’t care if you murdered someone, I hope you never do, but you can come home and tell me all about it.’ He was that kind of guy.”
Although she was sympathetic to IRA, her natural compassion for human beings did not allow her to become blind to the atrocities committed by them. Once, she saw an injured British soldier and ran down to help him. Upon witnessing this, her Catholic neighbors chided her for helping ‘an enemy’.
Betty Williams grabbed a piece of paper and drove through the Catholic-majority neighborhood of Andersonstown, knocking on every door and asking if they wanted peace and if they would join her in denouncing the violence unleashed by the IRA. She received an overwhelmingly positive response.
The procession to the funeral’s site, which started from Andersonstown, was attended by hundreds of people. By the time the demonstration reached the cemetery, the numbers had swelled to a few thousands, indicating how horrified the citizens were by this act of violence. That evening, Williams received messages from several important people, who extended their support to her cause.
On 14 August 1976, Betty Williams and Corrigan formally established the Women for Peace organization. On the following Saturday, a huge crowd of around 10,000 women, both Protestants and Catholics, gathered at the site of the accident for a prayer meeting. However, when the crowd started walking towards the cemetery, the trouble began.
Women for Peace organized an even bigger procession a week later. Around 35,000 marchers participated in the demonstration for peace, and the IRA did not intervene this time, allowing the marchers to proceed without trouble.
A Catholic reporter named Ciaran McKeown joined the group. As his involvement grew, the movement, which was initially called Women for Peace, began to be known as Community of Peace People or simply Peace People.
The peace initiative taken by Betty Williams and Mairead in the strife-torn Northern Ireland earned them several prizes, including the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize. They also established a magazine called Peace for Peace, with Ciaran McKeown serving as its editor.
In the late 1980s, she started traveling around the world, working for the welfare of children and recording their testimonies of living in unimaginably horrific conditions. In 1992, she established Global Children Studies Center. In the same year, she was also appointed to the Texas Commission for Children and Youth.
In 1997, she founded World Centers of Compassion for Children International, which was meant to create a better world for children. She served as its president.
After living in the USA for around two decades, Williams returned to her native country Northern Ireland in 2004. In 2006, she joined fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, to found the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
The Nobel Women’s Initiative held its first conference in 2007 and it focused on the conflicts in the Middle East. Since then, they have been continuously campaigning for peace, equality and justice.
She was a member of several organizations working for peace, including PeaceJam Foundation.
Although Betty Williams’s peace petition could not eradicate violence fully from Northern Ireland, it brought the Protestant and Catholic communities together and helped reduce the number of deaths from sectarian strife to a large extent. It was for the first time in history that Protestant women ventured into Catholic areas in Ireland and marched together for peace.
In 1982, Betty Williams married educator James T. Perkins and moved to the United States of America. In 2004, she returned to Northern Ireland and continued to work for peace across the globe.
On 17 March 2020, Betty Williams died in Belfast. She was 76.
How To Cite
People Also Viewed